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Broadcaster Review: Thursday Night Football

“It’s become a thing now in the NFL, when you hear Joe Buck’s voice, it’s a big event.”

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In all honesty I’ve never been a fan of the Thursday Night Football game. To me, as a former Fantasy Football player, it really made setting a lineup a tough chore. No time between the end of the Monday Night game to figure out if a guy scheduled for Thursday was actually hurt or not hurt.

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I know, first world problems. 

Never understand why the Fox telecasts have their pregame show emanating from New York and not the site of the game. In the case of last week, it makes a little sense because the Jets were playing, but they were at Baltimore not at home. I can’t factor in what it actually costs a network to send a show to the game, or if the host, Michael Strahan (who has more jobs than anyone I’ve ever met in my life) is available to travel with his demanding schedule. They did have a sponsored “Tailgate” segment that was live from Ravens’ Stadium with Clarissa Thompson interviewing fans. Still it’s a bit puzzling to me that the entire show doesn’t come from the stadium. 

GAME BROADCAST UNDERWAY

It’s become a thing now in the NFL, when you hear Joe Buck’s voice, it’s a big event. Not saying that a Thursday night game with the lowly Jets and high-powered Ravens is an event, but a nationally televised game is, whether you like it or not. I think back to my childhood, it was the same when I heard Pat Summerall and John Madden. Their voices made me pay attention. It’s become that way with Buck and Troy Aikman. 

The open was kept pretty simple and Buck actually set the stage for the fact “we’ll be talking a lot about (Ravens’ QB) Lamar Jackson.” He had a chance that night to become the QB with the most rushing yards in a single season in NFL history. It was good to set that storyline early because it makes you take notice. It’s also mentioned that the Ravens can wrap up a second straight AFC North title. It was smart to do that as well, because honestly there really isn’t much more to look at in a mismatch on paper.  

A graphic supports the Jackson story when he comes onto the field for his first series. Of course with all the talk about his running, he throws a completion on the first play. After Jackson’s first run of the game, Aikman illustrates on replay just how tough it is defensively to figure out on the “read option” who has the ball and how to keep containment. 

Jackson sets the record early in the first quarter and takes a big hit in achieving it. Aikman is right on it during a replay, pointing out “he’s going to remember that run for a couple of reasons, he took a big hit”. Aikman brought up the drawbacks to a running quarterback, especially as he points out, Jackson isn’t a big guy and the hits add up. Something to think about for sure.  Jackson is taking a pounding in this game. 

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Buck brings up a great point on how Jackson has even improved his game since last season. Adding that last year, Jackson won 6 of the last 7 games to get the Ravens into the playoffs. He’s even more dangerous now that he’s a legit dual threat and his passing has been a bit more accurate. 

In a late first quarter possession, the Ravens are moving the ball in Jets territory. They set up with an “empty backfield” and Aikman is right on it. “Most quarterbacks you know are going to throw the football, and there’s still a good chance he’ll (Jackson) keep this.” Sure enough after setting up for a pass, Jackson sneaks through and takes one up the field and goes out of bounds at the 6 yard line.  

After the scamper, Buck sets up sideline reporter Erin Andrews with the fact that Jackson’s speed is “eye popping, must look even faster from down there…”. Great set up because Andrews has a story about Madden ’20 and the speed ratings. A graphic supports her story that Jackson’s speed rating is a 96, which is faster than Vick. This is the guy whose record was just broken. The quote indicates that Vick is ok about the record, but he’s a little “hot” about Jackson having a higher rating. Entertaining and a good graphic. 

Buck and Aikman have been together a long time and you know what, it sounds like it. They have each other’s pacing and rhythm down and the banter is not forced, it just flows. They also seem to have each other’s backs.

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When Jackson made that long run to the Jets 6, I referenced earlier, Aikman commented how he didn’t see a Jets’ defender “spying” on the QB. There was nothing but open real estate. I think Aikman wanted to set the record straight that he doesn’t like the use of a “spy” in those cases. Maybe there was a conversation in the booth during a commercial?

I say this because in the 2nd quarter after another long run by Jackson, Buck referenced a conversation he and Aikman had with Jets defensive coordinator Greg Williams. Now, Williams told them that the only way he’d use a spy is if he had a guy as fast as Jackson. He doesn’t. Aikman then got to interject his disdain for that thought on defense and actually thanked Buck on the air for helping to “clean that up”. Great teamwork. 

I heard some good conversation late in the third quarter with the game starting to get out of hand. The producer showed a replay of a “sidearm” throw by Jackson that wound up zipping into the receiver’s hand. Aikman said he threw a “Kent Tekulve sidearm fastball in there,” in reference to the former Pirates closer. The discussion ensued about whether or not the Ravens have thought about tinkering with Jackson’s delivery. Aikman mentioned in a conversation with Ravens’ Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman, that the team had no plans to “fix” the delivery of the football, instead it did plan to continue progressing with Jackson’s footwork. From there the former QB Aikman told the story that when he struggled throwing, it was usually due to poor footwork. Talk about validating a conversation and the actions the Ravens will take with their young signal caller. 

Aikman at the start of the fourth quarter had another very interesting piece of information on Baltimore running back Mark Ingram. He told the story about how Ingram didn’t want to continue sharing carries with Alvin Kamara in New Orleans. The fact Aikman brought forward was that Ingram’s QB actually had more carries at this point than Kamara. Now keeping in mind Kamara missed some time due to injury and that the Saints are primarily a pass first, run second offense, it’s still a fact that speaks loudly. Not too many running backs take a back seat to their quarterback when it comes to running the football. Thought provoking story that certainly can lead to a discussion. 

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This duo works and it showed in this game. They kept the conversation lively and interesting even after the game was out of reach for the Jets. Their ability to play off of each other and not cross lines is pretty amazing. Each guy seems to be in it for the “team” not themselves. You can tell as each took part in some self-deprecation only to be bailed out by his teammate.

To some Buck can come off as “snarky”, but it works, because most football fans watch games with a little “snark” themselves. The thing I really respect about Buck is, he’s a terrific traffic cop in the booth, orchestrating what the producers want to be shown, with excellent segues and knowledge. Thursday night’s telecast was good on all fronts, from the production to the talent. A touchdown for Fox. 

BSM Writers

Being Wrong On-Air Isn’t A Bad Thing

…if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign.

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WRONG BAD

In the press conference after the Warriors won their fourth NBA title in eight years, Steph Curry referenced a very specific gesture from a very specific episode of Get Up that aired in August 2021.

“Clearly remember some experts and talking heads putting up the big zero,” Curry said, then holding up a hollowed fist to one eye, looking through it as if it were a telescope.

“How many championships we would have going forward because of everything we went through.”

Yep, Kendrick Perkins and Domonique Foxworth each predicted the Warriors wouldn’t win a single title over the course of the four-year extension Curry had just signed. The Warriors won the NBA title and guess what? Curry gets to gloat.

The funny part to me was the people who felt Perkins or Foxworth should be mad or embarrassed. Why? Because they were wrong?

That’s part of the game. If you’re a host or analyst who is never wrong in a prediction, it’s more likely that you’re excruciatingly boring than exceedingly smart. Being wrong is not necessarily fun, but it’s not a bad thing in this business.

You shouldn’t try to be wrong, but you shouldn’t be afraid of it, either. And if you are wrong, own it. Hold your L as I’ve heard the kids say. Don’t try to minimize it or explain it or try to point out how many other people are wrong, too. Do what Kendrick Perkins did on Get Up the day after the Warriors won the title.

“When they go on to win it, guess what?” He said, sitting next to Mike Greenberg. “You have to eat that.”

Do not do what Perkins did later that morning on First Take.

Perkins: “I come on here and it’s cool, right? Y’all can pull up Perk receipts and things to that nature. And then you give other people a pass like J-Will.”

Jason Williams: “I don’t get passes on this show.”

Perkins: “You had to, you had a receipt, too, because me and you both picked the Memphis Grizzlies to beat the Golden State Warriors, but I’m OK with that. I’m OK with that. Go ahead Stephen A. I know you’re about to have fun and do your thing. Go ahead.”

Stephen A. Smith: “First of all, I’m going to get serious for a second with the both of you, especially you, Perk, and I want to tell you something right now. Let me throw myself on Front Street, we can sit up there and make fun of me. You know how many damn Finals predictions I got wrong? I don’t give a damn. I mean, I got a whole bunch of them wrong. Ain’t no reason to come on the air and defend yourself. Perk, listen man. You were wrong. And we making fun, and Steph Curry making fun of you. You laugh at that my brother. He got you today. That’s all. He got you today.”

It’s absolutely great advice, and if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign. It means they’re not just listening, but holding on to what you say. You matter. Don’t ruin that by getting defensive and testy.

WORTH EVERY PENNY

I did a double-take when I saw Chris Russo’s list of the greatest QB-TE combinations ever on Wednesday and this was before I ever got to Tom Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski listed at No. 5. It was actually No. 4 that stopped me cold: Starr-Kramer.

My first thought: Jerry Kramer didn’t play tight end.

My second thought: I must be unaware of this really good tight end from the Lombardi-era Packers.

After further review, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, either. Ron Kramer did play for the Lombardi-era Packers, and he was a good player. He caught 14 scoring passes in a three-year stretch where he really mattered, but he failed to catch a single touchdown pass in six of the 10 NFL seasons he played. He was named first-team All-Pro once and finished his career with 229 receptions.

Now this is not the only reason that this is an absolutely terrible list. It is the most egregious, however. Bart Starr and Kramer are not among the 25 top QB-TE combinations in NFL history let alone the top five. And if you’re to believe Russo’s list, eighty percent of the top tandems played in the NFL in the 30-year window from 1958 to 1987 with only one tandem from the past 30 years meriting inclusion when this is the era in which tight end production has steadily climbed.

Then I found out that Russo is making $10,000 per appearance on “First Take.”

My first thought: You don’t have to pay that much to get a 60-something white guy to grossly exaggerate how great stuff used to be.

My second thought: That might be the best $10,000 ESPN has ever spent.

Once a week, Russo comes on and draws a reaction out of a younger demographic by playing a good-natured version of Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man. Russo groans to JJ Redick about the lack of fundamental basketball skills in today’s game or he proclaims the majesty of a tight end-quarterback pairing that was among the top five in its decade, but doesn’t sniff the top five of all-time.

And guess what? It works. Redick rolls his eyes, asks Russo which game he’s watching, and on Wednesday he got me to spend a good 25 minutes looking up statistics for some Packers tight end I’d never heard of. Not satisfied with that, I then moved on to determine Russo’s biggest omission from the list, which I’ve concluded is Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, who connected for 89 touchdowns over 15 seasons, which is only 73 more touchdowns than Kramer scored in his career. John Elway and Shannon Sharpe should be on there, too.

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BSM Writers

Money Isn’t The Key Reason Why Sellers Sell Sports Radio

I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions.

Jeff Caves

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Radio Sales

A radio salesperson’s value being purely tied to money is overrated to me. Our managers all believe that our main motivation for selling radio is to make more money. They see no problem in asking us to sell more in various ways because it increases our paycheck. We are offered more money to sell digital, NTR, to sell another station in the cluster, weekend remotes, new direct business, or via the phone in 8 hours. 

But is that why you sell sports radio?

In 2022, the Top 10 highest paying sales jobs are all in technology. Not a media company among them. You could argue that if it were all about making money, we should quit and work in tech. Famous bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed twenty banks over twenty years. He reportedly said,” that’s where the money is”. Sutton is the classic example of a person who wanted what money could provide and was willing to do whatever it took to get it, BUT he also admitted he liked robbing banks and felt alive. So, Sutton didn’t do it just for the money.

A salesperson’s relationship with money and prestige is also at the center of the play Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman is an aging and failing salesman who decides he is worth more dead than alive and kills himself in an auto accident giving his family the death benefit from his life insurance policy. Loman wasn’t working for the money. He wanted the prestige of what money could buy for himself and his family. 

Recently, I met a woman who spent twelve years selling radio from 1999-2011. I asked her why she left her senior sales job. She said she didn’t like the changes in the industry. Consolidation was at its peak, and most salespeople were asked to do more with less help. She described her radio sales job as one with “golden handcuffs”. The station paid her too much money to quit even though she hated the job. She finally quit. The job wasn’t worth the money to her.

I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions. I never wanted to sell anything else and specifically enjoyed selling programming centered around reaching fans of Boise State University football. That’s it. Very similar to what Mark Glynn and his KJR staff experience when selling Kraken hockey and Huskies football.  

I never thought selling sports radio was the best way to make money. I just enjoyed the way I could make money. I focused on the process and what I enjoyed about the position—the freedom to come and go and set my schedule for the most part. I concentrated on annual contracts and clients who wanted to run radio commercials over the air to get more traffic and build their brand.

Most of my clients were local direct and listened to the station. Some other sales initiatives had steep learning curves, were one-day events or contracted out shaky support staff. In other words, the money didn’t motivate me enough. How I spent my time was more important. 

So, if you are in management, maybe consider why your sales staff is working at the station. Because to me, they’d be robbing banks if it were all about making lots of money.  

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table

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Demetri Ravanos welcomes the two newest members of the BSM Podcast Network to the show. Brady Farkas and Stephen Strom join for a roundtable discussion that includes the new media, Sage Steele and Roger Goodell telling Congress that Dave Portnoy isn’t banned from NFL events.

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